April Zimmerman is a Maryland-born freelance and contract writer living in Charleston, S.C., and a blogger at aprilzimmerman.com. You can follow her on Instagram at @ape_zim for all of the daily things.
Last week I lay in bed at 1 a.m. as the first of those spring thunderstorms rolled through; rain throwing itself at my screens and thunder rattling the mirror above my dresser. I raised my blinds the next morning to find bits of debris gummed to the outside of my third-floor windows. Just yesterday, I unfolded my chair at Folly Beach and grazed on a half-full bag of Snyder’s Snaps while my friend Mohammed and I drifted from conversation to sand naps and back again. The waters of the Atlantic may ripple with the lingering chill of winter, but the leafed, serpent-like boughs of the oak just outside of my apartment signal the advent of spring and the short — very short — interval until those blazing dog days.
I have called Charleston home for the past six years after a late-20s move from my home state of Maryland, and the Hades heat of this Lowcountry season still throws me into a brief panic just before the temperature hits 90. If you lived in Charleston this past winter you know that summer decided to show up somewhere around February, paying no mind to the official calendar date of June 21. I can count on two hands the number of times I wore close-toed shoes outside of work, and while most women I know dyed their hair darker for the winter months, I chose to lighten my mane every eight weeks in keeping with the balmy weather. Occasionally, I missed the chill and snow, usually around Christmas, but mostly I savored the days that hovered below sweating but above beanies and beefy coats.
To be really honest, summer in Charleston is far from my favorite time of the year. The 110 percent humidity turns my hair into something strikingly similar to an ungroomed Chinchilla cat, my community pool feels like stale bathwater, and my patience for Folly Beach traffic ranges from limited to zero. I steer clear of the entire southern chunk of the peninsula due to the barrage of tourist footsteps that swallow Market Street and the swarms that unload from each docked cruise ship. I carry bug spray with 98 percent DEET in my purse at all times and spend two days rabidly chasing mosquitoes around my 800-square-foot apartment each time I open my front door to set out my trash. Still, I wind up with loads of angry welts and clad myself in maxi dresses for two weeks until my skin returns to normal.
Despite all of my pre-summer grumping, once the swelter touches down and unpacks its belongings, I typically beeline through it with the help of extra air conditioning, extra (cold) beer, and a northern getaway to breathe dry air. I’m all about survival and that includes avoiding the outdoors until sundown unless the activity involves a body of water. I can’t say that my bones have adjusted to the intensity of the season, but eventually, I gather up my endurance and power through with a cooler approach.
The other night, I drove over the James Island connector after meeting a few friends downtown, A/C cranked, sunroof cracked, and the early Lord Huron album on repeat. To my left, the moon brewed low over the Ashley River, sending bends of reflective glow across the current in the same strange hue as my car’s dash lights. The night climbed slower and the heavy tang of pluff mud rose up from the swelling marsh. “And the seasons change in the blink of an eye…” Even in the year-round thermal spells of the Southeast, the transfer of seasons is unmistakable to the local eye, and every year I feel them rouse in my veins, as if the pages of my own storybook are rolling over into a new chapter.
Within the last year, I encountered a sizable shift in my life. My writing grew, my relationships deepened, and reawakened passion and hope filled the pits of loss deep in my gut. This season, more than ever, I want to pay attention. To the bouquets of wood fire and jasmine that sweeten the evenings. To the fireworks as they pop over the Cooper River on the Fourth of July. To the pelicans that skim the waves of the incoming tide at Folly Beach County Park. This charming coastal city is developing rapidly. Now, when I wait out a red light at the corner of Spring Street and Lockwood, the ground under me shudders from nearby construction, and walls of concrete and pillars of steel blot out the river view. Hotel after hotel takes the place of vacant downtown realty, and commonplace road closures mark attempts to accommodate the vast number of newcomers. People grow. Places grow. Inevitably.
The afternoon sweats at 82 degrees today, and later I’ll stroll over to Folly to watch the 8 p.m. sun as it pulls away from the sea and down into the western horizon. I don’t know if Charleston will be my forever home, but while it’s my for-now home, I want to take notice of the time I spend as an islander in this sea-level community. It may not look exactly like the city I moved to six years ago but, to be fair, I don’t look the same either. And while I still dread the thick months of June through August, I resolve to write this year’s chapter a little slower, with more intention and a fresher attitude. But a few more margaritas and a few more braless days wouldn’t hurt either.